|A year ago, major question marks surrounded the Frogs linebacker corp. Now, it could be considered one of the best units on the team.|
|Returning Statistical Leaders|
|Tackles: Dawson; 91|
|SACKS: Mallett; 2|
|TFL: Dawson; 10|
|INT: Anderson; 1|
UNIT RANKING: B+
STRENGTHS: Experience, Run Defense
WEAKNESS: Consistency, overall depth
Before Dawson exploded with 17 tackles against Kansas it was unclear whether or not the Junior College transfer in his second year at TCU would make much of an impact. His performance against the Jayhawks proved to be just the beginning of a huge junior season for Dawson. Jonathan Anderson adjusted well to his new role as a linebacker after switching from safety before the 2013 season and totaled 66 tackles, 4.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Marcus Mallet stepped up big time in 2013 with 70 tackles, 8.5 TFL and 2 sacks.
The trio of Anderson, Dawson and Mallet got all the starts at linebacker in 2013 (10, 7 and 7, respectively), and it is unclear which two will be the starters in Patterson's 4-2-5 defense. Dawson seems to have one of the spots nailed down after his strong second half of last season, but neither Mallet or Anderson have clearly pulled away from the other to take the second spot.
The strengths for the linebackers in 2014 will be experience, as the top three at the position will all be seniors and all started at least 7 games last season. The three seniors combined for 23 tackles for loss in 2013 and should bring the same ferocity to the table in TCU's third season in the Big 12. That ability to penetrate the backfield on run plays was paramount to the Frogs' defensive success, and the story will probably be the same in 2014.
The main weakness for this position, though, is inconsistency. Dawson, Anderson and Mallet were all hot at different times throughout last season. At times, this inconsistency made it difficult for the safeties to play as well as they could have. If they can improve their consistency, the linebacker core will prove to be a strength of the 2014 TCU defense.
Sammy Douglas will be a sophomore in 2014 after playing in 10 games (mostly on special teams) and could get significant time as a backup. Paul Whitmill redshirted as a freshman last year and will most likely get time on special teams, but could see time at linebacker.
What to watch: Who earns the starting positions?
As I mentioned above, it seems that Dawson will most likely take up one of the two starting spots, but that is not written in stone. All three players have a chance to push themselves up the depth chart in the Spring, and it will be fun to follow their progress. They will all have something to prove in their senior seasons, and whoever pushes themselves hardest in the Spring will most likely rewarded.
Breakout player: Paul Dawson
Keep an eye on: Sammy Douglas' improvement
Douglas has a good frame to build on, but looked pretty thin when he came in at linebacker last season. If he can fill out his frame and build on a true freshman year in which he played 10 games, he could set himself up to be a star in his junior season. In his senior year of high school Douglas finished with 219 tackles. Yes, 219. He can be one of those players who is all over the field, and he will look to take advantage of his opportunities during the Spring.
Another thing to keep an eye on is Vin Ascolese (once the summer rolls around). He was not mentioned above since he will not be around during the Spring, but Ascolese already has the size to step in and play a lot in 2014. He will be a freshman even though he finished high school two years ago.
- Dawson and Anderson nail down starting roles
- Mallet comes close to taking Anderson's spot
- Douglas and Whitmill progress well